Education: BEng, MEng (Chemical Engineering, McGill University); PhD (Biomedical Engineering, University of Toronto)
Career Path: Academia to startup
Years of experience in the food industry: 17 years
Dr. Irwin Adam Eydelnant combines a background in engineering, biology, and technology with his passions for eating and design in the exploration of the future of food. As principal and creative/scientific director of Future Food Studio, he works to redefine food experience with large food and beverage clients, hospitality groups, and emerging food concepts.
What are your earliest memories of cooking and taking an interest in food?
Growing up, food was central to everything in our family. The day revolved around dinner where everyone came together. Food was essentially the way my family would communicate and share with one another. Though my mother was an entrepreneur and worked long days, she would always be home for dinner and bring me and my brothers into the kitchen to cook and share together.
How did your scientific background evolve into a career as a food futurist?
The transition was extraordinarily natural. Having worked in restaurants since I was 15, I continued to pursue food projects throughout college, whether a dinner series with friends or large dining events in our tiny Montreal apartment. Having studied engineering in college, I developed a strong background in technology which began to merge with my interest in food as a series of projects during graduate school. As projects grew in scale they started to cost more and that was when we began to brainstorm how to fund these efforts. Our first funded project was with a large food and beverage company that sparked the realization that this work had greater potential than just being a hobby.
What were your biggest inspirations for being involved in food culture and innovation?
Food itself is the greatest inspiration. Everyone understands food. Food is the original social media — it has historically been our greatest platform for storytelling, communicating, sharing and evolving.
What is your overall philosophy about food and how we eat?
The work we do revolves around creating food intent and food consciousness. We exist within a society where the majority of food consumption remains robotic, and we don’t necessarily have the opportunity to take the time to understand what it is we’re eating. Our work seeks to create food through delight, creating moments where one can pause and be intentional about their consumption.
Talk a bit about how the Future Food Studio came about and what it does.
Future Food Studio was a natural evolution from the series of projects that began as one-offs and became more and more frequent. The studio considers all aspects of food experience, interaction, and engagement —whether new food products or ways to consume food to full-scale environments, whether retail or through consumer activations. Half of our work is dedicated to client projects, typically large food and beverage, hospitality or emerging food concepts. The other half of our time is dedicated to research and development, from conceptual projects around tasting data or edible clouds to more practical technologies in packaging or utensils that allow us to taste things that “aren’t there.”
What do you think are the most exciting new ingredients that are so far underutilized in commercial foodservice?
Alternative proteins are emerging rapidly into the food environment, whether plant-derived protein alternatives or cricket proteins, consumers are becoming extremely aware of the impact their eating habits hold on the environment. We are currently witnessing a protein revolution and commercial foodservice has the opportunity to provide real leadership in the field.
What do you think is the most overrated food trend right now?
Molecular gastronomy as a trend has fortunately peaked and is making its way into the tool library rather than a stand-alone technique. These methods should be implemented when they make sense and enhance a food experience.
What do you think is the most underrated food trend?
There is an emerging movement away from alcohol consumption and into healthful alternative beverages. We are beginning to see venues and bars with non-alcoholic pressed juice cocktails and an increasing number of early morning dance parties fueled by whole foods. This is a huge opportunity area for food innovators.
What advances in technology are currently driving culinary innovation?
There are major shifts in the tools used for communication within the culinary space particularly within the space of connected environments and personalization. Whether beacon technologies that sense space and push information to guests when relevant, to interactive menu and display boards such as those showcased at the “Supermarket of the Future” at Milan Expo. We are seeing an increase in consumer demand for information on the products they’re consuming, from where ingredients came from to how they were prepared.
What can the average restaurant owner or chef do to expand their creativity and start embracing new ingredients and technologies?
Experiment and collaborate. The food industry has been attracting a huge amount of talent from a broad range of disciplines, whether creatives, technologists, scientists or futurists. Crossing these boundaries of expertise is where the next level of food experience exists.
What are some of the challenges of being a food scientist and innovator?
Ultimately we are working at the forefront of the field, identifying trends that may not be well understood today, exploring technologies that have never been implemented previously or collaborating with disciplines that do not traditionally work in food. Though food is currently experiencing extreme disruption at all levels much of the food industry remains very traditional and ingrained within dated practices. Challenging those practices has proven demanding. We have been fortunate to work with clients who are self-selecting in the sense that they recognize the evolution of food and food experience and are ready to push the limits and become leaders in their field; though these individuals are increasing in numbers today there is still much work to be done within larger organizations to adapt to the new world of food.
What new projects do you currently have on the drawing board?
We have recently come off a series of immersive dining experiences, whether the Sensorium in Toronto, or our installations at Art Basel Miami or the opening of RAW:Almond in Winnipeg that have inspired us to create within the foodservice and dining environments. Currently much of our work is focused on multi-sensorial eating experiences and we have been developing installations that explore these concepts. The studio is working on technology projects creating utensils that allow us to taste what isn’t there — a spoon for sweetness without sugar, or a fork for salt without salt — and other projects that are more conceptual including tasting data. Later this year we will be opening up the studio as a gallery that explores the Future of Food, and in June I am directing Food Loves Tech, an expo in NYC that explores the future of food through technology.
Based on your role as a food futurist and researcher, what advice would you have for aspiring new chefs or restaurant owners?
Force yourself to learn beyond the traditional skills and training methodologies that current chefs and restaurateurs are expected to have. Speak with scientists, experiment with creatives, collaborate with engineers — those intersections are the future of food experience.